Thursday, October 06, 2005


Resenting leadership

Apes live in a hierarchy based on strength and recklessness. That is, the strong ones who are also daring enough to force others to recognize their strength are the ones that get to do more of what they want. Apparently it's very complicated -- and useful. For the most part everyone in the group accepts it.

I don't know if apes low on the totem pole are capable of harboring resentment, or of sublimating it. Humans can do that, though, and I think lots of us do.

We have a status quo in which one cannot easily change one's wealth, or whether one has the right to arrest another, or ... lots of stuff. Fortunately, it's possible to justify large portions of even a terrible status quo to oneself. But the justification is real work, and without a guarantee of the intended outcome -- peace of mind -- in advance, it might not look like work worth doing.

Most of us are low on the totem pole. Society gives strong incentives for someone down here who has not justified the status quo to themselves to accept it anyway, and try to succeed in it. Out of all the people who have done that, how many harbor unconscious resentment towards the human pyramid that they've become a part of? And how does it affect their behavior?

If monkeys in fact do harbor resentment toward their higher-ups, one might conjecture that it plays a useful role. Perhaps a leader who has to spar with competitors will be more attentive to the group. Maybe he will be more trusted if he has to demonstrate superiority sometimes. I don't know.

But evolution lacks foresight, and it might be that a mindset which works okay in monkey-space is much less suited to human-space.

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